The Tampa Bay Buccaneers capped the strangest season in pro football history Sunday night by staging a familiar scene: Tom Brady hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Brady threw three touchdown passes, two to longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski, as Tampa Bay defeated the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the first modern title game ever played on the home field of one of the two finalists.
The game was supposed to be an epic battle of the ages, pitting the all-time great Brady and Patrick Mahomes, 25, widely regarded as the best young quarterback in the game.
The Chiefs entered Sunday night as 3-point favorites, but the Buccaneers stormed to a 21-6 halftime lead and were never seriously challenged. Tampa Bay’s suffocating defense kept the Chiefs, who averaged 30.8 points per game in the regular season, from denting the end zone even once on Sunday.
Brady, 43, was named Super Bowl MVP for an unprecedented the fifth time and will now be fitted for his seventh championship ring.
The Buccaneers appeared to be a slightly better-than-average team, sitting at 7-5 in late November. After they were defeated by the Chiefs in a regular season game on Nov. 29, the Bucs didn’t lose again.
“We had a rough month of November,” Brady said from the trophy presentation podium. “We came together at at the right time. I think we know this was going to happen now didn’t we? We ended up playing our best game of the year.”
Brady stunned the football world 11 months ago, leaving the New England Patriots and signing a free-agent deal in Tampa.
By opting out of New England in favor ofTampa Bay, Brady ditched a franchise that he and coach Bill Belichick elevated from mediocrity to greatness in favor of a club that’s rarely been associated with winning.
The Bucs won the 2003 Super Bowl in their only previous appearance in pro football’s ultimate game.
But Tampa Bay is better known for entering play as an expansion team in 1976 and losing 26 consecutive games, the longest run of ineptitude since the NFL-AFL merger.
From the time Brady, husband of supermodel Gisele Bündchen, set foot in Florida, he made winning fashionable again in Tampa. He completed passes for 4,633 yards, third most in the NFL, during an 11-5 regular season.
It was just the Bucs’ 14th winning season out of 45 campaigns in franchise history.
“It’s just an unbelievable story,” said Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to join his former New England teammate in Tampa.
“Just to have a situation like this with so many great players and be Super Bowl LV champs, it’s just unreal.”
The Buccaneers’ hometown Super Bowl victory capped a remarkable five-month run for local sports fans.
The Tampa Bay Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup, pro hockey’s ultimate reward, in late September as the NHL finished the coronavirus-delayed season playing in two Canadian bubbles.
In Major League Baseball’s severely truncated season, the Tampa Rays knocked off the Houston Astros to capture the American League pennant in October before falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor joked Sunday night she’d be up for changing the city’s name, tweeting: Tom Brady – see you in my office on Monday to discuss ‘Tompa’ Bay.”
And if there were any doubts that Brady might rest on his laurels and hang up his spikes, he put that to rest.
“Yeah we’re coming back” for the 2021 season, Brady said on the podium.
Sunday night’s title game in Tampa will end the weirdest campaign in pro football history, with numerous games having to be postponed and barely any fans — if any — in attendance at stadiums because of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Covid-19 cancellations were particularly hard-felt on Thanksgiving, an annual pro football gorge of three nationally televised games. But this season’s prime-time nightcap between high-profile rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens had to be moved due to an outbreak within the Ravens organization.
The game was first rescheduled for three days later and then moved again to Dec. 2, in an incredibly rare Wednesday contest.
Despite outbreaks and postponements, the NFL somehow managed to get in 16 regular season games for all 32 clubs — though actual eyewitnesses to those games were few and far between.
Nearly half the league played their eight regular season dates without one paying customer in the stands.
And of clubs that did allow fans inside, it was at radically reduced capacity. For example, Dallas led the NFL in tickets sold this season with 219,021 turnstile clicks, compared to the Cowboys 2019 total of 727,432.